I see a very specific work in front of me: a work on finding my own, personal style. Not in clothes, of course; for that my dark red accessories will do. In eroticism. And this is much more complicated matter.
Nearly all the global porn, as extensive as the phenomenon might be (some people say it is responsible for up to 98% of the movement in the world wide web), is a monotonous music played on just two strings: dominance and submission. As if it was a sad Sadian heritage spreading like a giant mantle in many shades of grey over the mankind. And Sade is not even a truly erotical author! 120 days of Sodom and such books are about the relation between order and evil, not about bodily delights in any proper sense.
Eroticism as I understand it is just a tiny margin in culture, any culture. A tiny minority of people are truly attached to it, while the vast majority just live their lives playing on any of those two strings; rarely on both. The second one of the mentioned is more familiar to me, perhaps because I need no erotic role play to be dominant in relation to any male. But all this is as dull as the regimen of Sodom. Strangely, so many people seem stick to it quite lovingly. Perhaps they are trying to control the uncontrollable, make order in the most disorderly sphere of human experience. Oh, the delights of regimen, any regimen! I suppose even the delights of Islamic eroticism are for many people just this, yet another regimen, more pleasurable as it appears to be stricter.
I search for a style, an expression, many more strings on which to play. A style of chaos, of freedom, of the unpredictable. Of the abyss from where most people seem so keen to run away, even if they would never admit it might be so. Is it really like this that true delight is like a void that requires us to jump, a ground removed from under our feet? Is this why we stick so desperately to habits, to whatever seems known and clear, even to physical pain? Just because pain is clear, known, down-to-earth; it won't take us far. The dullness of sex without orgasm won't take us far. While these brief four seconds might throw us into the unknown. Is it like this? Is it that we live most of our lives overwhelmed and driven by sexual fears instead of desires, temptations? The constant fear of going too far makes us constantly return to a routine, stick to a regimen.
The abysmal aspect of the experience of orgasm may be relatively easy to grasp physiologically, even if this simplicity may be misleading. It is similar to the sensation of stepping on the limit of fainting, as if suddenly the blood was either running into the brain or out of it. I often had the idea that I might have any kind of stroke. A worry which, I suppose, is medically quite unjustified (am I wrong?). But it is instinctive to move back from that point. Similarly, I've never had much enthusiasm for the idea of multiple orgasms, another myth of a certain sexual feminism, just a few decades old. I just couldn't persuade myself into trying it. There is something so powerful in the experience of orgasm (the first of several that might come?) that says: Enough.
Well, I cared to check in the Internet. In fact, I found the information about the risk of brain haemorrhages and stroke associated with sex, and more precisely with orgasm; it is also said that they correspond to some 15% of all strokes, which is, I suppose, something to think about. "Bleeding into the brain after orgasm is known to happen", a doctor says, although it is immediately explained that some underlying condition, such as high blood pressure, must exist for this to happen. I've also learned there is something called coital cephalgia, or "thunder clap" headache; I believe to have experienced it sometimes in my thirties, but never knew it had both medical and popular name, much less that there might have been a link between it and any sort of serious health risk; this is to say how little do we know.
For the remaining risks associated with sex, beyond the usual question of sexually transmitted diseases and a bruised cervix, I also found the eventuality of broken ribs, although without any indication of the precise circumstances in which it may happen. I suppose that, with the kind of sex-in-the-desert lifestyle of mine, I might also be exposed to this... Which is a joke of course, but the question of stroke made me quite alert, even if they say women who had it would probably have it any more prosaic way, while riding a bike, for instance.
But this post was to be about style, not about sex risks and injuries. The two strings aforementioned are generated by a single concept: power relations. What are the other strings to play on? I suppose the question of erotical style is diffused over longer periods of relationship, in slow evolution, not so easy to associate with a single gesture, an attitude, or what in older times used to be called a fetish. I suppose it is a way of being based on a kind of core value, an abstraction, such as might be freedom in my case, the use of freedom as a central motif on which to play. Kind of keyword to many things, giving them a specific coloration.
Speaking in terms of cultural history, I suppose certain colours are codified, even if they are rarely practised today, fallen in disuse. Such is for example the opus in blue, built on solitude and longing. Barthes made his alphabet (Fragments d'un discours amoureux) largely out of this. There is all this tradition of erotical melancholy, of amor hereos.
But what I need is a triumphal mood, a coloration of strong positive feelings. Something befitting my invincible womanhood.
In a month, I've lost over 6 kg. Every day I notice some positive change in my physiological condition, like the disappearance of a certain hyperesthesia that accompanied me since I was a teenager. Mentally, as if in a sort if inverted dysmorphic disorder, I appear to myself more attractive than is probably the case. I suppose this kind of mild irrealism is characteristic at least to a certain type of mature women, just as excessive criticism toward one's looks is characteristic for young women. I've always had a great love for myself, but now it is something different; paradoxically, because this idealisation of my own person comes strangely associated with the readiness of finding constantly new problems to solve, new corrections to make; I work on myself as if I were my own masterpiece. Just a perfect client for all the cosmetologist industry. Yet another obsession is my sudden need of acquiring and wearing red clothes and accessories; I still have many from the first years of my marriage, I always loved dark red things; but yesterday I just had to buy a beautiful, and proportionally expensive, cherry colour skirt.
Still uncertain, nonetheless, what to do with my marriage, that in the meanwhile acquires rare shades of passion, harmony, devotion, mutual interest, unhindered communication. I'm surprised to see how much of its complexity escaped me over the last years. It is indeed a beautiful garden that pains me to abandon, especially now, when it is again in its full blossom and splendour. I would have a great deal of good and curious things to say about it, but these are of course aspects I'm obliged to keep secret.
The outer world of men seems less attractive in comparison, and the conclusions I draw speak about the necessity of caution and restraint. Somehow I find my own balance of principles and temptations, perhaps also more easily and with a greater efficacy than in any earlier period of my life. Yet I have an instinctive feeling that some great good will come to me from that side as well, not knowing how or when, except that it will come rather through restraint, selectivity and virtue, than otherwise.
And all this vaguely moralising wisdom would be very boring of course, if it didn't came from a woman navigating, erotically speaking, towards very deep waters indeed.
I am in love. He is in love. We are in love. And the kind of love that has never happened before, could not have happened before.
Did he manage to reconquer me surreptitiously, as I was afraid? Did I somehow reconquered him myself? Or perhaps the marriage rearranged itself, like a sort of self-organising entity, reemerged out of chaos like a mathematical attractor? Spontaneously returned to its own optimum? Or rather, encountered a new optimum at a new energetic level?
I don't know what is the correct language to describe the phenomenon. Also, the coming weeks and months will show what will actually happen with it, what kind of trajectory it will assume. Be that as it may, all this is not only extremely exciting, but also enriching to live through. Giving me more and more intense sensation of transforming into a different person, of passing through such a change as I've never experienced before. To be in love in a different way, as it has never happened before, is only one of aspects.
I always imagined the 45+ life as a kind of flat line, when everything that was to happen already happened, the white-haired couple smile tenderly staring to the sea, eventually, his penis pending like a locket full of memories, her vagina like a fine, brittle roll of rose parchment. Perhaps I've just confused the decades, 45+ is not exactly 65+ or 75+. I thought it is all the same. No one told me it is not. There was no fairy tale about this.
What culture is for, if it doesn't tell us the best fairy tales, if it doesn't prepare us for the most beautiful transitions in our life? Or am I just the first of the human kind to face it?
Might it possibly be a real novelty? An option that, in terms of the cultural history of the humanity, appeared just now, with longer life, better health, a body undamaged by pregnancies and childbirths, long use of hormonal contraceptives? Brain shaped by intense intellectual activity, thinking and feeling in more than one culture, polyglot expression, frequent travels, living in a global horizon? Symbolic status that enables me to require for my pleasure what my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother would not dare, or even be able, to dream about?
Even if I compare myself with other women of my generation, it is easy to see that my habits of using of my liberty are quite unique. On this blog, I have recently seen my erotic history as a total disaster, and myself as one of the late - but unfortunately not last - victims of my country, of a culture that had lied to me about my womanhood along all my life. Perhaps this vision is not entirely correct. There has been me in it, a crucial factor, and my capacity to work through my failure, the cultural limitations imposed upon me, my personal errors and blunders.
And here I am, with what I well deserved, with my new, more passionate love, and my new, hypersensitive body, and my new, bolder and braver taste for life, and my maturity to reach for more, in a sort of final Faustian transgression.
Ist nur ein Gleichnis;
Hier wird's Ereignis;
Hier ist's getan;
Zieht uns hinan.
Talaq or not talaq?
I'm still undecided, and in a kind of emotional roller coaster that is not my true nature, and even less that of my husband. But I think this bit of bumpy ride served us both, helping to clarify many issues swept under the carpet long ago. Perhaps there is nothing like a good divorce to refresh and solidify a good marriage. That's a hypothesis.
But the problem is there; he cannot live with me in the Netherlands permanently, and I'm neither ready nor willing to face the City of Men (and me in it) on my own. We have seen all imaginable options, even the eventuality of finding for me a Lesbian lover. But of course, I'm as much heterosexual as a woman has ever been, and versed enough in the religion to know that this is not an accepted solution, either. Nonetheless, I do feel entitled to seek a more satisfactory marriage for myself, even if the one I got is truly not so very far from perfection. Am I overdoing something?
Here I am back to his first suggestion, which was more or less as follows: make your choice, and I will provide you with the necessary papers the moment you actually need them; which is both a very generous and very pragmatic option. It may take years to find me a new husband, and even, I may prove unable to find anyone to convince me. No need to rush into divorcing. Meanwhile we can still have a couple of unforgettable moments, even more exciting, if we know they might never happen again.
I rejected this option initially, because I just couldn't construe myself running after any man while I'm still someone else's wive; that would be an insult to the best I appreciate in myself. But perhaps my courting wont just take the form of running after anyone; that time is definitely over. Perhaps I should imagine it rather as a sort of discreet archaic negotiations.
Oh, were this desert my dwelling place! is still my favourite Byronic verse. I try to consider the Dutch as seriously as possible, but instinctively I feel it is not the right address. Not because they might miss anything as men; they are all right. But unfitting my purpose. Certainly, they would be socially the closest to what I am, the best educated, with the best assets. They might be a woman's best friends, and also very acceptable lovers, if only I were the woman I was just a couple of months ago. Right now, I feel they might lack in temperament on the heights of passion. Although I assume this is just a heuristic based on stereotypes, prejudices, possible misconceptions. Or a language of pheromones that remains incomprehensible to me.
It is in my desert that I feel truly at home; it speaks a language of pheromones that I do understand only too well. Certainly, this is something learned, something that solidified in me due to my previous experience; but the intimate life has its own rules.
Also, I would really feel like a freak with any western guy, with all the burden of my highly unconventional views, believes, intimate persuasions. As well as exigences and expectations.
A marriage before, not after, is one of them. I know it is an extravagant idea that might only make people laugh. But I just cannot do it otherwise. Not truly, or not exclusively, for any direct religious reason. It is something far more pragmatic. I do believe that good sex requires commitment. A commitment that should be decided, established, and if possibly formalised before anyone even thinks about taking off his or her shoes. So both parts come to the matter fully focused and in the state of concentration of all their resources. Without any further theological musings, this is just the lesson Master Yoda conveyed to Luke Skywalker, when he started his training as a jedi. When the matter is to move a spaceship out of a muddy pool with nothing but your mind power, you cannot say "OK, I will try to see if it works". You have to stick to Yoda's lesson: "Do. Or do not. There is no try". Otherwise it will never work.
I know this is not the most common approach to sex, especially in a country like the Netherlands. Being a jedi wont improve my chances. But this is how I got about 99% of good sex I ever managed to have in my life; arguably, that makes me a bit inelastic in my strategies. I suppose it is also something temperamental about me; I'm just such an extra-serious person, so strongly committed in whatever I do in my life, appreciating things very neatly cut. I suppose there is nothing to do with it; it's my nature. And I know that to find a fulfilment, I need to follow it as closely as possible, not try to falsify it.
What the imams from a thousand years ago say about orgasm is basically this kind of reasoning: orgasm is for heaven what fire is for hell; if you live an ungodly life, you will receive a punishment for which the earthly experience of having burnt yourself is only a warning, just to give you an idea of what it might be. If, on the contrary, you live a good life, you will be rewarded, and the earthly experience of orgasm is to give you an idea of what it might be and a sort of insight into the paradise, so you might feel motivated for praying at 4.30 am and similar things. But of course, both fire and orgasm are merely metaphors of something that is beyond any proper expression in the language of this life.
I tend to be fixed on the vision of paradise as much as medieval Christians tended to be fixed on the vision of hell. But in earthly terms, I never had any special consideration for orgasm as such, and always thought it is an object of intense falsification, since the first feminism, in a sort of "battle for orgasm". The first ideas about it that I received, when I was a teenager in late communist / democratic transition Poland, came from the classical books of Wisłocka and Lew Starowicz, that made the revolution of that time. It was basically the idea that orgasm is something difficult and not for everybody, since many women are anorgasmic, suffer from frigidity, Coughlan syndrome, etc. I was seriously worried it might be my case. There was a strong accent on searching for symptoms of this condition in the woman, such as the famous question of C-V, or clitoris-vagina distance (supposedly, if it is too far, in anatomic terms, the woman would be definitely unable to achieve orgasms during the intercourse, for life). It was an essentialist approach, fixed on the abstract "capacity of achieving" whatsoever, inscribed in the female body, its anatomy, and paying very little attention to the subtleties of actual sexual practice that was supposed to lead to it. I think this approach reflected the essential simplicity of the local sexual culture, in which sex consisted mainly in some in-out moves; even their duration or intensity were secondary aspects that escaped the narrow framing. The idea that a woman might have an orgasm with a given partner and not with another one was just a curious hypothesis, mentioned in the margin of the main discourse. But basically, a woman was either "orgasmic" or "anorgasmic", as if predestined to either heaven or hell.
I'm by no means inclined to criticise Wisłocka's book or belittle its importance. It was indeed a revolutionary book, reliable in many things. For my 18th birthday, I also received another book, published and distributed under the auspices of the Catholic Church, where I could find the instruction how to follow the so called calendar method, today also known as Vatican roulette. There was also a hint that the woman achieves some sort of ecstasy at the moment of childbirth, more precisely when the child's head is pushed through her vagina, if she is not under the effect of strong painkillers (sic!). But in my battle for orgasm I never went as far as trying this, so I'm in no position of stating if this is true or not. About the same time in my life, but through quite a different source, I also learned there exists a kind of Meccan roulette called عزل, but luckily enough Wisłocka's book informed me quite unequivocally that coitus interruptus is not a valid contraceptive method, since also the pre-cum fluid contains spermatozoa. Alhamdulillah.
By the way, at the time, we also had in Poland a kind of book about sexual cultures of the world, including the Orient. If I remember correctly, it was Lew Starowicz who authored it. It was incredibly naive, badly written, sort of amateurish publication. I just mention it to say Wisłocka's book truly appeared as something brilliant; it had something authentic in it, something that made it into that revolutionary importance both in Poland and in a series of East European countries where it was translated. Many years later, I was deeply shocked by her biography, Sztuka kochania gorszycielki, published in 2014 by Violetta Ozminkowski. The episodes from Wisłocka's life were illustrative of the harshness of any Polish female life; I cannot claim having come close to her suffering in any moment of my own bumpy erotical biography. Her life, at least as far as Ozmnikowski depicts it, started with a regular rape at the moment of taking her virginity, and continued with the experience of regular polygamy, painful childbirth, painful divorce, painful loneliness, without mentioning the sexist context of her academic life, etc. The culminating, ending moment of the biography is the revelation of the secret behind the only erotically positive male figure, a sailor Wisłocka encountered during her vacation, educated in many brothels of the world. He was supposed to be one who gave her the first orgasmic experience and inspired the making of the revolutionary Sztuka kochania. The testimony brought about at the end indicates that guy was not even a sailor of any kind; he was merely an animator from the local tourist centre, living seasonal romance throughout each summer. He created that sailor brothel-going persona merely to fascinate lonely, frustrated women such as the future author of Sztuka kochania herself. As if it was all over an imposture, all the sexual revolution of Poland initiated by a woman who was so tragically unhappy throughout her own sexual life. We were taught about love and eroticism by someone who never truly experienced any of them.
I'm afraid Poland has changed very little since that time, and if possible, for worse. It is an extremely harsh reality, as far as I can judge (it must be taken into the account that I didn't have any close physical contact with any Polish male for more than a quarter of a century, so I'm not in a good position to evaluate whatsoever; on the other hand, the very fact that I lived in Poland for decades without experiencing any intimacy with its inhabitants is symptomatic). I include these recollections just because I've recently read a funny comment under an online article dedicated to sexual dysfunctions among Polish women. It went straight to the point, stating: "It is quite natural that Polish women suffer from sexual dysfunctions, since they make love with Poles". Nothing to add. At a given moment of some sort of intellectual crisis, I got a rather stupid habit of entering the sex chatroom provided by one of the main Internet services of the time, Wirtualna Polska. The local usages were peculiar. It was normal to start the chat with the injunction "zeszmacę cię, suko", which is an idiomatic expression without an exact equivalent in any other language I know; the literal translation would be something like "I will turn you into a piece of old cloth / into a rag, you bitch". Pragmatically, it functioned as a sort of greeting or opening formula.
No wonder I never went very far beyond those preliminaries. Obviously, the men behind the screens were weak and uncertain of their value, and very little inclined to have anything in common with an over-educated (also sexually over-educated) bitch like me. What might have happened with them across the last decade is only a conjecture of mine. But I do not doubt the usages have become even harsher, and many men became literally encapsulated in their bubbles of compulsively watched hard porn, intoxicating their imagination and in numerous cases, as I presume, rendering them unable to build up any normal relationship with any woman whatsoever. Their dream of strength, fulfilled in massive extreme right manifestations (the last one gathered a crowd of 250 000, predominantly male, participants), starts in their private capsules of hard porn. Specialised studies should be made about this.
But that was about the hell; let's talk about the heaven. As I said, for the major part of my life, I gave no special attention to orgasm as such. What I thought and experienced about it was more or less as follows: first of all, the thing is very short, barely three or four seconds, too short to make it an object of consistent aesthetic appreciation. In other words, the pleasure connected to orgasm in itself was moderate in my view; the sensation was basically reduced to a short series of contractions in the genital area; the greatness of it resided mainly in the sort of cultural importance attributed to it. It was satisfying as a sort of closing parenthesis cutting short the tension that had built up; this is why it was giving the sensation of the complete thing well done, to be appreciated afterwards as a specific sort of relaxation, usually just giving the respite to forget sex and concentrate on other matters of life.
What I recon must be told as clearly and as aloud as possible is that orgasm is in the first place a private, individual, unshared experience. Two things we should forget in the first place are all those myths about simultaneous orgasm as a sort of ideal, as well as all those old ideas about the male as the giver, the provider or whoever, of the orgasm. In my opinion, it is important to say that it is not in the power of any man to give or offer an orgasm to whoever. Perhaps, paradoxically, it is the source of the view I've criticised above, stating that it is essentially all about the woman's capacity of claiming or receiving or accepting or admitting or simply having (whatever verb we chose) an orgasm. Privately, I believe the giver of orgasm is God; yes, as radically and literally as this. If this is supposed to be a glimpse into the paradise, He concedes it to whom He chooses. It does not sound like a very orthodox lemma in any established religion, but it is my personal view.
To put it short of any further theological musings, it would be a grotesque presumption in a man to claim that he can offer or provide or give an orgasm to any partner of his; on the other hand, it is useless and unjust to make the man responsible for any lack of orgasm we might experience, if he does his duty the best he can. The rest is with... OK, yes, the rest is with God. Since it is not in the power of any woman, either, to provide, infallibly, an orgasm to herself. And of course, any woman's attempts at improving the male experience, in terms of the quality of his orgasm, are just a labour lost. By the way, I believe the insight into the quality of the male orgasm is extremely scarce; it's one of the darkest, most mysterious and least explored aspects of the sexologist science. In the everyday life, most people just make a confusion between male orgasm and ejaculation.
There is also another aspect that I would like to see more clearly, but never encountered any attention paid to it in whatever sources I tried to consult. I wonder what is the relation between achieving orgasm during the intercourse and the pelvic thrust performed by the woman; by which I mean all sorts of deliberate muscular effort displayed for the benefit of the thing going on, especially the subtle activity of the entire pelvic bottom muscular anatomy, which is quite complex. I suppose we have become very lazy, sisters, this last thousand years, delving into the passivity of an intercourse that is supposed to be received, more than actually made. But all the (contemporary western) books on the topic of achieving orgasms say that the royal way is relaxation. I'm afraid I never followed this advice. (Concomitantly with prayer), the only way of achieving an orgasm I actually know is hard work.
By the way, I'm currently reading one of those books, namely Tantric Orgasm for Women, by Diana Richardson. I kept it for many years on my shelf of erotica as a curio, although I always believed it is just an enormous New Age nonsense (at least not as dangerous as the Catholic book I'd received for my 18th birthday). I reread it now and it seems to me that I find interesting hints. Perhaps it requires considerable experience and insight to get through this kind of reading, and to be able to grasp intuitively what she is actually trying to say and in what sense it might be true. Nonetheless I find it refreshing and inspiring. Be it for the distinction that the author tries to make between female passivity and what she calls receptivity.
Many of those opinions (and habits) I used to have changed quite recently. As I've already explained, my adventure begun when I noticed an unexpected change in my physiological reactions at the approaching menopause. Also, I've already commented on the fact that nothing in the cultural transmission I had received prepared me for the fact that I might face this kind of reality at this stage in my life. If I knew, I would arrange many things differently; this is the cause of my complaint, and also the cause of my decision to provide these musings as a publicly available testimony of what life is. So, in this perspective, orgasm definitely appear to me as an aspect of maturity. Across my twenties and thirties, it was a simple (initially even not so very simple) question of having it. It is only very late in age that the experience starts to develop into something much more interesting.
Of course, it is very difficult to explain in what this change consists. Taking it quite primarily, it is longer. By curiosity, I checked in the Internet what is the official average duration of an orgasm. Google says it is 3 or 4 to 15 seconds, although a single off-road study proving that it may possibly last as long as 20 seconds to 2 minutes is also quoted. I believe to have arrived close to those 20 seconds, although a 2-minute orgasm still appears as something monstrous to me (although I feel inclined to believe that under highly specific conditions it might be real). I took the fancy of counting the seconds, which might even be a good technique to make it last longer, although of course the measurement is strongly debatable (first of all, how long is one second while you are having an orgasm?).
Another aspect may be called, if I want to create a scientific term, the locus of this experience in the body. A really good orgasm is a kind of migrating sensation that appear, as an unpredictable and unexpected wave, in different parts of the body, not just the series of contractions involving the genital area. The most beautiful I had passed through my face as a sensation that I might compare to a sudden slap of a bird's wing (kind of event that often happens in falconry). Ephemeral, surprising and sublime.
Being like this, orgasm takes on quite a different importance as a unique, unrepeatable, individualised experience to be singled out and remembered, not just a sort of closing parenthesis drawn in finer or thicker line. It starts to have a quality and a content truly to become something aesthetically appreciable. And, last but not least, something that might eventually be interpreted as a meaningful insight into a paradise.
But perhaps it might be seen as a cruelty to write such things while the majority of women may only expect their menopause exactly according to the symptoms about which I've always been informed. Yet I still believe it is important to give a stronger cultural expression to other scenarios, that are nonetheless very real, and perhaps even not so very rare as it seems to me now. I suppose that hormone replacement therapies might be redesigned to fit those alternative scenarios, rather than try to mimic the hormonal balance of younger women. Certainly, the culture would have to change profoundly, if this is ever to happen. First of all, there is the question who will be the hero to make love with such over-receptive and doubtlessly over-exigent Shakespearean queens. Till now, I'm afraid, the most liberal concession that the European societies have made to their 45+ ladies is to send them to Samburu warriors, who welcome them as wealth, offering them the same unconditional love that in earlier times they reserved to their cows.
Yet this is the moment of asking in what I still believe.
What if the literalness of my Garden is only a metaphor? What if all the rewards to be taken are to be claimed here and now, without any further delay? Shall I strive for becoming lovable if in all probability there will be no one to love me? Do I see a sufficient Platonic purpose in it? Am I ready for this final combat if there is no hope of any victory whatsoever? For the sake of what? Dignity? Greatness? Humanness? For the sake of myself as the last thing that remains?
I'm barely a month on this quest, and I found mainly bitterness, destruction and doubt. Is there anything positive to be found, anything at all beyond the ephemeral moment, suspended in the air like the flight of a kestrel?
And what does it mean "in all probability"? That in Poland there was no one to love me?
I am a complete woman, reliable, true to my word, with a reasonable CV as well as C-V distance, and a not inconsiderable awareness of intimate matters. And in all probability, I will be well established and taken even before the witch-hazel flowers lose their fragrance at the end of winter.
It is very easy to understand why I find myself at the point where I am now. I come from a reality in which eroticism, as I understand it, i.e. as a sustained, complex and sophisticated practice, has been completely absent from the cultural landscape; I come into a new reality in which eroticism, or at least sex, may initially seem as easily available as the internationally famous Amsterdam City Water. But at a closer consideration, it may not be so; the thing is a privilege anywhere in the world, even in Amsterdam. The type of problem, the whole situation I face, and the fact of facing it at this stage of life, is a rare privilege. I should see it as such, in the aura of exception.
It is very easy to lose faith in love, romance, and good sex as a performance, not a narration. Those theological treatises from my shelf in Leiden postpone it to the afterlife, an idea that will certainly bring a bitter smile to any post-Christian Westerner. And even the imams from a thousand years ago say it is basically a metaphor.
What makes me suddenly such a literalist?
I find the number 46 just fine, but I start to be seriously worried about the cultural significance of my age. Certainly, in my old country, it marginalises me into a zone of invisibility and non-existence; the West invented other margins to put women like me, such as sex paradises of Kenya and other parts of the world, for instance. As I go on researching various aspects of late female libido, I've just seen a documentary about English women on their holidays, and it makes cold sweat run along my backbone. Although obviously there is nothing in it I didn't know or even seen with my own eyes before. And also, although I'm not entirely sure if it's exactly late female libido that is in the focus in that movie. Rather the devastating results of accumulated frustrations and betrayals suffered along their lives, or inherited, as in the case of a teenage girl portrayed in her role of a sex tourist as well. Perhaps there is no age to transform into a nightmare the blessing of being able to enjoy one's sexuality. So easy to spend it on sheer stupidity, desperation and dissipation. Even if till the end I stay with my doubt if female sex tourism is really about sex, or it is rather about trying to make one's emotional life a bit more bearable. Perhaps it is precisely the strength of one's libido that forces us to make order in this sphere of life, and to keep it that way. That's a hypothesis.
In the Starbucks's at the Sloterdijk Station, a young Syrian refugee, not yet at his twentieth birthday, told me I was beautiful and asked my age, with the same innocence children ask each other's age at their first meeting. Obviously, he was making his first, tentative steps on the path of maleness, and my response covered him with ridicule in front of two other youngsters, following his endeavour with the greatest attention. I shouldn't have told I was 46, I should have told I was 30. There was no need to humiliate the poor child.
A Dutch online dating service also asked my age, and I introduced the correct data. But what the internet regurgitated on my lap as the response was a collection of men in their fifties, not only unattractive as for me and unfitting my purpose, but first of all, as cheating as a false coin. In my perception, a singular and striking falseness of their intentions was the most repugnant trait, more than any feature of their decadent physique. Since the very first glance, there was something mendacious and something unrevealed about all those profiles, although of course I couldn't say with any amount of certitude what it was precisely. Perhaps a malicious and spiteful intention of betraying their old, faithful and resigned spouses, perhaps the wish of procuring themselves for free exactly the same kind of service that usually comes remunerated. Perhaps the very shameful and guilty coloration of their sexuality as something they would never assume openly. I felt exactly the same about all those professors in Poland who never assumed they would have any specific sort of interest in me; they always claimed they merely wished to "discuss" some unspecified, abstract but undoubtedly fascinating topic. While at least some of them were knowingly in a relationship that they treated as an obvious - thus unmentioned - nihil obstat.
There are also lonely men in their fifties, divorced or even never married before. Those are the falsest of all coins. I met one in the bus from Kraków to Amsterdam, enough distance to give me an insight into his life, as well as past and present matrimonial projects. For many years, he was looking for a sufficiently submissive spouse, even as far as Morocco; yet not even a Maghrebian brebis was accommodating enough to correspond to his ideal profile. There was nothing particularly shocking behind, as far as I could understand. He was simply looking for a female non-entity that would listen to his torrential discourse, a flow of nonsense requiring no sensible answer. A woman as transparent as air.
It is all in Koterski's movies, it is all resumed in his paradigmatic hero Adaś Miauczyński, a lonely man in his fifties masturbating into "Gazeta Wyborcza" just as some men Ibn Hazm mentions in his treatise used to masturbate into love letters, in a wistful longing for his Elżunia, an ideal woman that would not interfere with his multiple compulsions.
Oh, Stella splendens, the ideal woman! Most obviously, I'm not of that kind. Not transparent, not submissive (whatever I might have said about serving the tomato soup to my husband), not a great beauty (whatever might be a 20-years-old Syrian refugee's opinion in the matter), not even elegant or particularly presentable in social terms. To my considerable surprise, I discovered my splendour the other day, when I was in the university library in Leiden. Not doing any serious research for the moment, I resolved at least to leaf through the specialised resources, that basically consisted in long, dusty rows of tafsirs, quranic concordances, collections of hadith according to different authors, and theological treatises. I took from the shelf a volume of al-Ghazali, and opened it at random on a chapter dedicated to marriage. Certainly not a pleasant reading for a feminist; as a good Aristotelian, he justified the need of exercising patience and tenderness toward women by their lesser intellective capacities. But somehow I recognised on that brittle, yellowed page the very image of my own marriage. A zero-violence perfection fifteen centuries in the making. And of myself as an ideal woman, free from malice, jealousy and greed, never asking for anything beyond her needs, acting with reserve and moderation. Whatever the impression the reader might get from this blog, I do not remember to have committed, these last twelve years, any major contravention against anything that millennium old sexual ethics might contain, leaving my house exclusively for grave reasons such as acquiring food, going to a library or travelling in search of knowledge. Oh, Stella splendens!
It helps me to think about myself in these terms.
And here I am again, in my predicament, divorcing a man I love and who loves me, just for the sake of the temptation that the City of Men represents to me. We will find a solution, he says, with infinite patience and compassion that, I suppose, is objectively not to be expected from a man, any man. But what solution is to be found?
Yeah, I know what I need, I have written about it extensively. And what tempts me is a plurality of men, all of them attractive at a glance, but most probably unfitting my purpose, unavailable for stable relationship, lacking financial and symbolic resources. Perhaps even unable to offer such a good nikah as I would expect from them, for age, experience, success and my fertile imagination made me unrealistic.
It would be wiser to return to my work, write articles and books, about Andalusian arts of love if I must, but at least competent and well placed in serious journals and editing houses. Yet perhaps to follow that wisdom and to put it into practice would mean to commit again the same essential error I committed along all my life. To postpone love, or to treat it as a topic of the past, an intellectual adventure, a game of imagination. Perhaps this is what love essentially is. The rest are unrealistic expectations.
I think about returning to my old hobby of writing erotic stories. I wonder if I still have those I did years ago, about Arabs, and the desert, and horses, and falcons, and the city of Amsterdam before I came here for the first time with my husband. Anyway, I think I remember them, up to certain juicy expressions I regarded as particularly well turned at the time. Obviously my English is much better now than it was thence.
Is love performance or narration?
The conference was OK. Moderately so. I've been used to much worse, to greater ignorance. For ignorance there have been also here, among those people from Oxford and King's College, and such sounding places. And moments to ask what I'm doing there, and similar. Although ignorance is perhaps not the term to use here. Superficial knowledge, uncritical repetition of things that are usually said in their own context, conformism - these are their main sins.
But overall it was good, I shouldn't complain.
I still had the perception that I needed to get used to proper scholarship, to be among the right people. But at a given moment, I started to feel that I had been in the West long enough to lose the right to say: Forgive me my ignorance, and my manners, and my English, and my lack of professionalism, for I'm just coming from a peripheral academic system, etc.
I have no valid excuse any more. I'm just a scholar. Just a European scholar, without much of a local accent.
Gosh, many people would like to be just a scholar I am. Even if some of them appear to present some feeble signs of instinctive repulsion and avoidance (while other seem interested, even fascinated).
There is perhaps a sort of self-perception of invincible scholarship, just as there is a self-perception of invincible womanhood that deserts and cities of men bestow upon us.
But overall, the country is wild, and falling out of Europe wont certainly help it. Even Oxford is not worth the chicken I stoically consumed in a noisy football bar at Victoria Station. It was singularly tasteless, as if it had been washed in a washing machine with some very efficient detergents (they made me pay the exorbitant price of 22 pounds and 50 pennies for it, and a mug of low quality beer).
I think this conference, after all, may be one of my last in UK. London is crowded, expensive, and there are actually few original things to be found there. I'll be much better in my Leiden, and I can quietly stick to it. Europe is such a tiny thing, the Civilisation is such a tiny thing. One can cross it in just a couple of hours. Only the steppes are endless.
And right now, on this Sunday morning, under quickly moving clouds, somewhere between Rotterdam and the Hague, these verses come to me:
Mon enfant, ma soeur,
Songe à la douceur
D'aller là-bas vivre ensemble!
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble!
Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
I'm in love with myself, I'm in love with the Netherlands, ce pays qui me ressemble.
I'm in love with the kind of food Albert Heijn provides for my breakfast for mere two or three euros, and with my walks through Red Lamp district till the Oude Kirk where I once prayed with the last Christians of the Low Countries, and where I like to take a coffee on such misty Sunday mornings. I'm in love with every mossy brick of this city.